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Libya’s Health Care Program in Danger of Collapsing

(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)

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Photo by Ismail Zitouny, Reuters. Photo of closed emergency room in Tripoli Central Hospital taken on July 18, 2016.

A father and his six year old daughter with a plastic anemia, a rare blood cell disease, attempt to make their way to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea on a motor boat.  Abdulhakil Shaybi became desperate to get his six year old daughter, Sajida, medical treatment after unsuccessfully searching for a medical specialist to treat his daughter and unable to attain a visa to take his daughter abroad for treatment.

A couple hours after setting out from the shore of Sabratha, a city in the west of Libya, Shaybi crosses paths with a European migrant rescue boat.

“I raised a white flag to the ship in a sign of peace,” Shaybi said in a phone interview with Reuters after making it to Genoa, Italy where Sajida was undergoing tests by medical professionals to assess her condition.

Shaybi’s story got a lot of attention on social media as many in Libya drew parallels to Shaybi’s desperate state and frustration with the healthcare situation in Libya. Libya’s health care program has been suffering from weakened security, weakened economy and low medical resources.

The Tripoli Central Hospital is “in a disastrous condition, one hundred times worse than before. There was no nursing staff at night, no medicine, and no health care at all,” describes Shaybi. The hospital has also suffered from local power and water outages impacting its ability to care for its patients. The hospital’s emergency room was closed after two nurses were attacked three months ago. Many of the hospital’s staff refuse to go back in fear for their lives. The general manager Mukhtar Al-Habbas said the hospital is “only conducting emergency operations.”

“We have no anaesthetic, sterilising materials, or medical gauze, so how we can work?” said Al-Habbas.

Haroon Rashid, from the World Health Organization,  said almost half of Libya’s hospitals are in very similar conditions if they have not already closed their doors because of their inability to treat patients.

During the rule of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi Libya’s oil wealth enabled it to employ many foreign doctors and other medical professionals who were attracted to work in Libya by high paying salaries. About 80% of them have left Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011.

The interruption of Libya’s oil production and sales has further unsettled the country’s political situation and economy putting Libya’s health care system in a tough position. Many foreign entities are not providing funding to Libya because of assumptions of wealth available in Libya.

Rashid explains that “everyone is saying that Libya is a rich country, and they may have frozen assets but they have nothing in hand.”

Tripoli Medical Centre has endured enormous amount of setbacks.The use of some medical equipment has been halted by contractors who have not been paid. Hospital staff who, despite safety risks, still work at the hospital say they might not return to the hospital if their salaries are not paid.

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